Coloradans for Energy Access
“Coloradans for Energy Access” is a gas industry front group that launched in 2022 to oppose electrification efforts in Colorado.
Membership includes gas utilities and trade associations
The “Coloradans for Energy Access” website lists the group’s members, which include Xcel Energy and Black Hills Energy, investor-owned utilities that sell electricity and gas in Colorado, along with Atmos Energy and Summit Utilities, which sell gas in Colorado and other states. Members also include the American Public Gas Association, the national trade association for publicly-owned gas utilities like Colorado Springs Utilities, and the Colorado Propane Gas Association, as well as labor unions, the Colorado Farm Bureau, and the Colorado Association of Realtors.
Board of directors is entirely composed of gas utility representatives
The “Coloradans for Energy Access” tax form for 2021 shows that the group’s board of directors is entirely composed of representatives of gas utilities. The four listed board members are: Joni Zich, senior director of gas strategy at Xcel Energy; Christina Rosendahl, lobbyist at Black Hills Energy; Mitch Pebley, director of operations at Colorado Summit Utilities; and Jennifer Altieri, then vice president of public affairs at Atmos Energy, who was listed as the board president.
A spokesperson for Xcel Energy would not confirm to Colorado Public Radio whether the company funded Coloradans for Energy Access, but a political contributions report published by Xcel Energy in February 2023 stated: “In 2022, Xcel contributed $80,000 to Coloradans for Energy Access.”
The Coloradans for Access tax form also shows that the group received all of its funding from five contributors, who were not named.
The American Gas Association contributed $50,000 to Coloradans for Energy Access, according to the trade association’s 2021 IRS Form 990.
Group launched with false claims
“Coloradans for Energy Access” launched in January 2022 with a website and op-ed in the Colorado Sun, both of which included false claims that heat pumps cost more to operate than gas furnaces. The Colorado Sun removed the false claim from the op-ed and added an editor’s note to correct the record; the false claim was also removed from the “Coloradans for Energy Access” website, without acknowledgement.
Led by FTI Consulting and Atmos Energy
Huffington Post and Colorado Public Radio reported on an audio recording of an internal meeting of “Coloradans for Energy Access” which shows that the group is led by the largest gas-only utility in the country, Texas-based Atmos Energy, and FTI Consulting, which has a long history of running front groups for the oil and gas industry.
In the recording, an Atmos Energy executive and a director at FTI Consulting discuss how they launched the group with a website and op-ed, offer to ghostwrite similar op-eds in the future, and explain how the group will focus on opposing a Colorado Public Utilities Commission proposal to end ratepayer subsidies for the expansion of the gas system and electrification efforts in Denver.
Xcel Energy and Atmos Energy have repeatedly declined to explain their role in the gas industry group to journalists, though Colorado Public Radio reported that each utility said they are not spending ratepayer money on the group:
Colorado state Sen. Chris Hansen, a Denver Democrat, said Colorado’s current utility rules make it tough to verify how the trade association could be using ratepayer money. The concern has pushed him to explore ways to assist the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has an inquiry into whether to clarify federal rules around trade association dues. Colorado’s Public Utilities Commission uses accounting rules set by the FERC.
“It is absolutely crucial zero ratepayer dollars are being used for political advocacy,” Hansen said. “We need to make sure this is the case in Colorado and at the federal level.”
All of the utility members of Coloradans for Energy Access — Atmos Energy, Xcel Energy, Black Hills and Summit Energy — said no customer dollars are going toward the group’s efforts.
American Gas Association playbook
“Coloradans for Energy Access” is consistent with the guidance to investor-owned gas utilities from their trade association, the American Gas Association, to use other voices to push the gas utility industry’s message.
An American Gas Association presentation advised gas utilities to “Build a local and/or state consumer coalition to serve as the spokesperson for the natural gas industry”
In a recording of that meeting, an American Gas Association executive explained the need for that strategy:
“Speaking of Coalitions, we have convened the national group of end users and consumers to help carry our message. Again, we keep hearing from our message testing the industry talking about industry isn’t effective. We really need our end users like AARP, the restaurants, home builders, laborers, and agricultural – farmers specifically, are the more effective voices for us out there. So we talked twice monthly. With our coalition partners, we have used them to testify in cases in front of the legislators as well as at city councils. We are also increasing our outreach to include local mayors, legislators, African American groups, and all kinds of different folks so that we have more friends on our side willing to talk about how great natural gas is.”
CNN reported on the American Gas Association’s presentation: